Sylvia Stoesser – the first female chemist at Dow

A framed portrait of Sylvia Stoesser

Source: Photograph courtesy of Courtesy of Science History Institute/Frame © Swindler & Swindler @ Folio Art

Rebecca Trager explores the story of a pioneering industrial researcher, named on 29 patents, but whose research career ended with motherhood

The year the US stock market crashed was when physical chemist Sylvia Stoesser’s career took off. She became the first woman researcher hired at Dow Chemical Company in Midland, Michigan, in 1929. Stoesser is credited with helping to invent styrene, as well as contributing to the development of Saran wrap (also known as cling film), vinyl plastics and Styrofoam. Her work also led to safer solvents for the dry cleaning industry, and it increased crude oil production.

Stoesser died aged 89 nearly 20 years ago, but the immense contribution she made to the field of chemistry – as well as to the chemical industry and Dow itself – has been increasingly recognised and celebrated in recent years.